Syrian artists are continuing to work amidst the horror of war and the difficulties of exile, Tim Cornwell writes. Among the artists discussed in the article are Thaier Helal and Mohannad Orabi both of whom have struggled with visas and travelling to exhibitions. These artists’ work has undergone a transformation as they have been affected by the war. As Jyoti Kalsi wrote back in 2012, Orabi was once well known for his playful paintings:
The paintings always feature childlike, androgynous figures with a large circular head, rounded body and darkened, almond shaped eyes. Through these highly stylised, innocent looking characters the artist revisits his childhood, expresses his innermost feelings and explores various human emotions and interactions…However, his latest work is quite different. The title of the series, It’s No Longer About Me, clearly indicates a major shift in direction for the artist. This is manifested by the change in the look of his signature figures. They appear more real and grown up and their features and bodies are better defined, especially their eyes. Instead of dark, empty, cavernous orbs that reveal nothing, the figures now have piercing, expressive eyes that connect with the viewer and convey a deep sense of sadness.
Orabi has himself discussed this change in an interview last year:
“I haven’t always made political art and maybe in the future I can paint about being happy,” says Orabi. “But right now, all my passions are towards Syria simply because I’ve been directly affected by what has happened there. It’s irrelevant to think about anything else – commenting on this terrible situation is what I should be doing. People glance at headlines and don’t take them in. But maybe if they see an image and it really affects them …Look, I can’t stop the war myself. But maybe if I can help people outside Syria think about it, then maybe one day it will stop.”
Other artists Cornwell discusses in his article include Safwan Dahoul, Heba Al Akkad, and Jaber Al Azmeh as well as older Syrian artists Youssef Abdelke, Marwan Kassab Bachi, Louay Kayyali, and Fateh Al Moudarres.
Cornwell discusses the attention the war has brought to Syrian art, mentioning the Jalanbo art collective, the anonymous art collective “Syrian People Know Their Way,” and Abounaddara, – “a collective of self-taught and volunteer film-makers involved in “emergency cinema”.”
As Cornwell writes: “As a result of the war, Syria’s once isolated art has, in a sad way, experienced growing exposure at all levels.”